Country diary: Relentless rain – but a day of farming collaboration

<span>Driving rain in Keswick, Cumbria: ‘We had to put on our waterproofs and set back into the downpour.’</span><span>Photograph: Andrea Meanwell</span>
Driving rain in Keswick, Cumbria: ‘We had to put on our waterproofs and set back into the downpour.’Photograph: Andrea Meanwell

It wasn’t a great day for a farm visit. As the rain drove relentlessly across the valley, we had to wait to get up the lane to Ashness Farm due to a blocked drain and flooding. Situated between Derwent Water and the hanging valley of Watendlath, Ashness Farm commands one of the best views in the Lake District on an old packhorse route, though the view was not revealing itself today.

Last week, as part of my work for National Trust, I and other staff were visiting farms with the director general, Hilary McGrady. Hilary had met the farmer at Ashness, Anne Cornthwaite, at an event in the autumn, and was interested to hear how Anne was farming with nature with a hefted flock of Herdwick sheep and her herd of belted Galloway cattle, and so we had arranged a visit for Hilary to see the farm for herself.

Having coffee in the farmhouse living room, we looked out across the fields as Anne explained how she had been inspired by a visit to Helen and James Rebanks’s farm with our Ladies with Livestock group.

Related: Country diary: We ‘ladies with livestock’ look after each other | Andrea Meanwell

At the Rebanks’s farm, we had all seen how James had put in multiple ponds and hedgerows. Anne had decided that she would like to have ponds, and there had been funding available for nature conservation work as part of the peatland restoration work above the farm on Armboth Fell. The National Trust had then put in some new ponds for Anne, who had also recently added an orchard next to the house.

Anne also pointed out an “edible hedge” that she had seen at the Rebanks’s farm, which she had replicated on hers. The hedge comprises a variety of species of fruit-bearing shrubs, with the idea that not only can animals graze the hedgerow once it is grown but also visitors to Ashness Farm, including school groups, will be able to pick fruit from it.

Eventually, we had to put on our waterproofs and step back out into the downpour. The next visit was to see the hydropower scheme at Watendlath that converts the flowing water coming down the fells into electricity. There was certainly plenty of flowing water in the valley today.

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